Japan is a seafood nation and rightly so. Being made up of over 4000 islands, we kinda have a lot of water here. But Kyoto is a landlocked city and for centuries, the transport of truly fresh fish from Japan’s coasts through the country’s mountainous interior was impossible.
As a result, Kyoto was forced to get creative – enter the versatile soybean. A whole cuisine developed around the presentation of tofu. Tofu, I hear you all saying? That tasteless, flabby mass that’s been showing up more and more in Western grocery stores? Yes, tofu. But not as you know it.
On my last trip to Kyoto, I arranged for a full-course tofu lunch at Nanzen-ji Temple’s Okutan restaurant in a 350 year old subtemple overlooking a beautiful garden. When I arrived with my friend, the place was empty but within half an hour, all of the tables were taken. Reservations are key!
We ordered the yudofu set, which began with a brick of cold sesame tofu. It was good but wasn’t my favorite and, looking back, I shouldn’t have finished it all as it filled me up. Next up was my favorite course – skewers of grilled tofu with miso-ponzu paste slathered on top. If I haven’t made it clear in this blog before, I. Love. Miso. So delicious. This I could have had more of.
Our main course was yudofu, which is tofu simmered in a pot of hot water and flavored with a light soy sauce (I think – sorry, I’m no professional food blogger) and green onions. It was accompanied by veggie tempura, which I could barely finish by the time I got to it. Typically, the rice came last and was left virutally untouched by me, a rarity. I couldn’t believe how full I was. For those who think tofu is for vegetarians with no sense of taste, think again.
While the restaurant’s English website no longer seems to function, you can get some more information here.